Marie’s high hopes for Belfast

VISIT: Marie Macklin is on the hunt for a suitable Belfast location VISIT: Marie Macklin is on the hunt for a suitable Belfast location
By Brónach Ní Thuama

BELFAST is set to be the location for a new urban regeneration concept.

The HALO project headed by Marie Macklin, who already have a thriving regeneration site in Kilmarnock, have their sights set on Belfast as a location for their next development.

Marie has spent time in Belfast meeting with political, educational, community leaders, business representatives and investors in a bid to find suitable locations for the next phase of HALO’s regeneration programme.

Speaking to the Belfast Media Group Marie said: “I came to Belfast last year under the invitation of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir to give a speech at the Homecoming Conference and to give out awards to local entrepreneurs.

“I have an urban regeneration company and we invest in new start businesses. When I came over for the conference I felt so welcome here that I wanted to bring our HALO brand to Belfast.”

Discussing her time in Belfast Marie said: “I’m on a week’s mission to identify a team that I can pull together and get local knowledge. I’m here to listen and learn to see what’s happening here now. Belfast has such a wonderful vibe about it and I want to gain as much knowledge as I can about what’s happening in the economy regarding regeneration and see if we can bring our HALO regeneration project to Belfast.

“There have been various sites put forward but whatever we do, we are very much a family company with family values. We work in some of the most deprived areas in Scotland. I’m all about helping kids and I would love to do a key site in both communities to try and create opportunities for the young people of Belfast.”

Marie’s HALO brand has already proved a great success in her hometown of Kilmarnock. Discussing it she said: “There is amazing regeneration work happening all over but the site I’ve currently got in Kilmarnock was a 20-acre declined industrial site in my home town, a deprived postcode area where I was brought up.

“Diageo Johnnie Walker Whiskey exited from it in 2009, we lost 700 jobs and since then I had been negotiating with Diageo to get control of the site, to try and come up with a solution. We got control of the site two years ago and we have been working with the community to come up with a mixed use scheme that will create job opportunities for our community.

“It’s a huge site, we’ve got innovation, technology, housing, offices, commercial space, work units for new start businesses. Everything we do we take back into education and schools. We work alongside the council, the schools and the colleges to integrate a qualification. Basically you can get a qualification, either go to college or university and then get a job opportunity on the HALO site. What we also do is we trade our company but at some point we would give shares of it to the local community and that way they can benefit from any profits that come from that site.

“If you’ve got a community organisation you are able to access funds for it through HALO, it’s a unique model, there’s not any other developers we know of that does that.”

Describing what Marie and her team have done in Belfast so far she said: “We are here for a learning and listening exercise, we want to appoint local people to help us on our journey.

“When we get control of a site we don’t come in and say, ‘This is what you’re getting,’ we go into the community and work with them and ask, ‘What do you want here, what is it you really need?’ just like we’ve done in Kilmarnock. We had a consultation with over 200 people and we took them on a journey with us and the solution for the Kilmarnock HALO site is their solution. We then go into the private sector to get users in to rent space, help businesses start up, I put funding in to help some of the businesses, it’s a unique model and we aim to do four of them, Kilmarnock, Belfast, Wales and the UK.

“It’s hard work but if you’ve got a community behind you and you give them ownership of the development then it can’t fail. It’s about working with governments, councils, social enterprises, charities to pull it all together, so we’re not here to step on anyone’s toes, we are here to look at the good works that have happened here and see if we can fit in.”

Discussing what drives her to give back, Marie said: “I’m very passionate because I saw my community decline over thirty years and politics had a lot to play in that. I vowed that some day if I could make change and help then I would and that’s why I do it. I’m also very passionate about children and their issues. I sit on various charities and organisations. I’m extremely passionate about centre-stage that works with kids that don’t engage at school.

“I’m all about young kids and giving them opportunities. I was that fat kid bullied at school and kept back two years, so I totally get it. I you can’t help then what’s the point in being here?

“We firmly believe in putting something back in, it doesn’t matter if it’s Kilmarnock, Belfast or wherever, that’s our ethos and we stay in developments for a long time until we get them to work.”

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